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February 8, 2008

Sparks fly from the campfire

New men’s campground generates hundreds of comments, many foul

New London, Ohio--A gay campground set to open this spring has stirred a controversy in this Huron County area.

A number of residents reacted with homophobia and hostility when they learned that a local campground’s new owners will cater to gay men.

Freedom Valley, about 40 miles southwest of Cleveland, was purchased by Michael Folkman and Jeff Boone on November 27. The Cleveland couple had looked at several other properties.

“This one was ailing,” said Boone, “which made it attractive.” According to records, the couple paid $270,000 for the 30acre facility.

The campground, which borders the Vermilion River on U.S. 250 just south of Fitchville, was owned by Larry and Mary Oney. They had operated it for 13 years until Larry took ill and the couple could no longer keep it.

All went well with the sale until the Norwalk Reflector reported it with a 72-point headline across three-fourths of the front page and a large photo. “Freedom Valley Campground now catering to gay men” proclaimed the January 24 issue.

“Under new ownership, Freedom Valley Campground has announced it will change direction this spring and open as a facility catering to homosexual men,” the newspaper wrote. “Only men will be allowed at the private campground.”

The Reflector’s website allows readers to comment without revealing their identity, and by the end of the first day, there were more than 500 comments. At press time, there are 634.

Most are silly and some are supportive, but others threaten physical harm to the men and damage to the property.

“Smalltowner” wrote: “This is about the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of I moved to Huron County because it was a nice county. please say this is not so!!!!!!!

“Concerned about our Future” wrote: “Our country was founded on respect for Biblical moral values, and we are quickly slipping down a dangerous slope. I hope that people protest this campground constantly . . . What’s next for Fitchville, a NAMBLA hotel (North American Man Boy Love Association)?”

The newspaper published a second article the same day stating that the Oneys were unhappy that the property was becoming a gay camp, and that the seasonal campers were upset that they had to leave.

The comments to the second piece were similar to the first. To date it has drawn 164. Typical Reflector stories get about 20.

Boone said there were only 11 seasonals, people who rent campsites by the year, and no one complained when they were told they needed to remove their trailers by the end of March. He conceded, however, that they asked the seasonal campers to leave a few months earlier than planned in order to open the campground in April.

Boone said he was “physically ill” the day the comments to the articles were published.

“You don’t know if someone would put their words into action or not,” he said.

“We knew there would be some rumblings in the county,” said Boone, “but it’s private land and they have nothing to say about it. We’re not going anywhere.”

Reflector managing editor Joe Centers posted a statement about the camp and the comments on January 29.

“We try to monitor the site as close as we can and eliminate the tasteless, filthy and mean-spirited comments,” Centers wrote. “It didn’t take long before the story drew all of the above and then some. The nasty comments went up faster than we could take them off.”

“Everybody had a little fun with the story. But ease up a bit. Freedom of speech has its limits,” Centers concluded.

Boone was less charitable: “After those who advocated burning our property down, or calling for us to be physically harmed, I am wondering if they were to take their words into action how much fun are we all still be having? You, sir, are a coward, just as your bloggers are who are able to comment anonymously.”

“Ray” added: “The Reflector knew very well the kind of commentary they were inviting with this story--that’s why they splayed what was essentially a real estate transaction as their leading front page headline.”

Boone said he and Folkman have visited the sheriff and other county officials, who are supportive of them.

He also said that the camp has gotten dozens of e-mails of support through its website, including messages from other LGBT people in Huron County.

There are many gay men’s campgrounds scattered around the country. Other nearby ones include Circle JJ Ranch in Carroll County; Roseland, south of Wheeling, W.V.; and Camp Davis in western Pennsylvania.

The Web Gay People's Chronicle


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